[Q] My horse has recently been diagnosed with kissing
spine, but the vets say she can still jump and do dressage if maintained well.
Do you have any tips for recommended care or exercises?
[A] I completely agree with your veterinarian! In
general, most horses can perform well with kissing spine, even at elite levels.
Most important is to focus on good core stability for your horse, since the
core muscles stabilise dynamic movement of the thorax (the area of the kissing
spine). Unstable movement can lead to pain!
Here are some tips for you:
- You can train the
core muscles from the ground. Activate Your
Horse’s Core by Narelle Stubbs and Hilary Clayton is a book with many
well-explained and effective unmounted core exercises. Make sure to repeat the
exercises five times each, five times a week for a duration of at least five
- Alternate between
ridden and unridden training. Keep the focus on the core stability. In ridden
work this is done by making small transitions. A lower head-neck position can
help to lengthen the topline. However, the horse is not allowed to lean on the
forehand, so keep an active hind leg. Remember that the walk and canter are the
most mobilising gaits for the spine. In the beginning, it might be more
comfortable to have a forward seat in canter. When unridden, you can
effectively train your horse’s core muscles with lunging, long-reining and
treadmill exercises (water treadmill or dry treadmill with incline). The
Equiband™ is a system that can be used for core muscle activation in both
ridden and unridden work.
- Pole work is very
useful for stretching the topline and training the core muscles. However, some
horses tend to hollow their backs while trotting over poles. When this is the
case, start with only one pole in walk and slowly build up to more poles in
more gaits. When unridden, you can use side reins, but it is extremely
important to keep the side reins long enough for the horse to see the poles.
- A well-fitted saddle
is of very high importance. When in doubt, only train your horse unridden until
the saddle fitter corrects the saddle. Make sure the saddle fitter comes regularly,
since horses can change in size due to muscle development and weight gain.
During rehabilitation, it is wise to have the saddle checked at least every six
to eight weeks.
physiotherapists and chiropractors have a big impact on mobilising the spine,
reducing pain and solving compensations.
- Regular massage can
help with tense muscles in the area of the kissing spine.
Good luck to you and your horse in becoming happy and
Morgan Lashley, veterinarian and chiropractor specialised in revalidation